The recent scandal surrounding Walter Reed Army Medical Center–set off in February by a Washington Post investigative series documenting cases of alleged neglect–may not be the end of veterans’ grievances against the government. The Post’s disturbing account of building deterioration and patient neglect at the facility, which houses sick and wounded Iraq veterans, set off a political firestorm that resulted in the hospital’s highest official being relieved of command.
Now, Tresa Baldas at the National Law Journal reports that legal action may be close in tow, as Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a nonprofit group that assists veterans applying for disability benefits, has teamed up with three law firms volunteering their services. Their target? The disability ratings process that determines how much and for how long each injured soldier gets paid.
Before awarding benefits to injured veterans, the government medically evaluates each soldier and assigns a disability rating that determines the amount of benefits awarded. DAV alleges that the government is deliberately downplaying veterans’ injuries, compensating them less by assigning ratings that are too low. The group began an investigation into the rating system that coincided with the Walter Reed neglect scandal. The Law Journal reports:
“The demand for our services has been very high,” said Ronald Smith, deputy general counsel for DAV who has handled several disability claims on behalf of soldiers. Smith said that to date, he knows of at least 30 cases at Walter Reed in which injured soldiers received substantially low ratings and are appealing their medical evaluations. Among those is Fred Ball, an explosion victim with two children who had a substantial part of his skull blown off in Iraq and a metal fragment embedded in his brain. According to Smith, the military should have given Ball a 100 percent disability rating, entitling him up to $2,471 a month. Instead, he got a 10 percent rating, entitling him to $337 a month. He’s been declared unfit for duty, but not hurt enough to receive full benefits.
Attorneys who have partnered with DAV will help wounded solders appeal their low disability ratings at formal hearings before what is known as the Physical Evaluation Board. Some cases may be appealed directly to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., which has jurisdiction over the ratings appeals.